Up and down pitching. Unreliable hitting. A growing list of the injured that is more reminiscent of a M*A*S*H unit than a major league clubhouse. But the biggest problem, and one that the team will have an almost impossible task remedying, is a lack of consistency in its starting lineup.
Bobby Valentine has trotted out 57 different batting orders through the Red Sox' first 66 games this year. The most common lineup has been used a scant three times — and that's one that includes Marlon Byrd, who isn't even on the team anymore.
The worst of it may be that the team has its hands tied while waiting on help to arrive, and things will have to get worse before they can begin to improve.
When Jacoby Ellsbury went down with a shoulder injury in April, that was just the tip of the iceberg for the Red Sox' lineup woes. Without the speedy center fielder at the top of the lineup, the steady stream of attempted fill-ins was unable to deliver a worthy replacement.
Mike Aviles. Ryan Sweeney. Heck, even Daniel Nava gave it a try before Scott Podsednik emerged. However, given Podsednik's age (36) and his good fortune so far in finding holes in the defense (judging by his .434 BABIP), the run he's on likely has an expiration date.
Ellsbury's eventual return, however, will only further muddy the waters as far as the lineup is concerned. With Ellsbury back patrolling center field — and Carl Crawford eventually working his way back to left — that leaves only right field open, which will force the team to address the Adrian Gonzalez Experiment.
Gonzalez has been struggling at the plate all season long, and that opens the door to speculation of how the strain of playing out of position is wearing on him. While the Gold Glove-winning first baseman's willingness to play right — and not make any excuses about it — deserves praise, the Red Sox can only play with fire so long before getting seriously burned.
The Red Sox are mostly done with interleague play, which helps because David Ortiz will return to designated hitter and won't have to play any first base to get into the lineup. What it doesn't help with, however, is sorting out the Kevin Youkilis–Will Middlebrooks balancing act that has forced Gonzalez into right.
It's unlikely that Ben Cherington will stand pat at the trade deadline — either as a buyer or a seller — and as that date approaches, the team will likely be adjusting even further to the new faces coming in.
If the team were to trade Youkilis, that would certainly be a step toward clearing up the situation, but it's no magic bullet to fix all of the team's lineup woes.
For now, the team must wait and see how Ellsbury and Crawford fare before jumping to any conclusions and rushing to wheel and deal for a patchwork solution. But with the clock running and the season nearly halfway done, they run the risk of being patient for too long.
The team really has no choice but to wait on its injured stars to return and stabilize the lineup. Whether the Sox can stay in the hunt for that long without them remains to be seen.